Series Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers, August 16-18

Heavy April rain has made this a four game series, with the oft-dreaded day-night doubleheader to open it, but the Cubs have been wildly successful in the last two weeks, winning 13 of  their last 15. Losses on Saturday and Sunday to the Cardinals at the hands of the bullpen have certainly frustrated the fanbase, but the Cubs themselves begin anew today.

Probable Starters:

Tuesday Game One: Trevor Cahill vs. Matt Garza

As we read here recently, Cahill has been working in Iowa in preparation for this. His role going forward will be to spell the starting five whenever possible in an effort to keep them fresh for the playoffs. Mike Montgomery could be used here to “piggyback” this start, much like what was done with Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes for the Cardinals last Saturday. Cahill has a large amount of experience as a starter, though not much since 2014, and he hasn’t really started consistently since 2013, and this will be the first time the Cubs have used him in that role.

Despite Garza’s desires to destroy the Cubs every time he faces them, a sentiment he expressed not long after departing Chicago and landing in Milwaukee (with a stop in Texas in between), he’s hardly having a season that elicits fear on the part of opposing hitters on any team. He’s made just 11 starts this year, and missed April and May along with a chunk of June because of a lat strain. Since returning, he’s underwhelmed, though he has improved upon a ghastly 2015. Garza’s repertoire this season is one of four primary pitches, as he’s thrown his changeup only sparingly so far. His most oft thrown pitch, his fastball, has dropped in velocity the past few seasons, and gets slightly less vertical movement. Hitters are swinging and missing at it less, though they never did much to begin with. His best pitch in that regard has been his slider that has batters swinging and missing just over 20 percent of the time. The slider comes in at 83, about nine miles per hour slower than the fastball, and he generally saves it for when he’s ahead in the count or has two strikes.

Tuesday Game Two: Jason Hammel vs. Chase Anderson

Hammel certainly appears to have shaken off the second half woes that plagued him in 2014 and 2015, and has continued to be an integral part of Chicago’s sterling rotation in this season. He’s had just one start go less than six innings since the break, and he’s coming off of two consecutive scoreless outings against the Marlins and Angels. Hammel has been using his fastball less this year in favor of his sinker, but his slider remains his most frequently used pitch. This year he’s getting a nearly 18 percent whiff rate with it, which is consistent with last season, though this was the pitch that often failed him in the second half before.

Anderson has faced the Cubs once this season in his near no-hitter on May 17. That was easily his best start of the season, as he’s been generally serviceable since then, but not particularly impressive. In his two starts in August, he’s thrown a quality start against the Diamondbacks and beaten the Braves. Anderson has five pitches, and on July 20 against the Pirates he introduced a sixth, his slider. He threw it just once (for a ball) and has not used it since. Otherwise, he uses his fastball, sinker, and change in a nearly even three pitch mix, and it’s the change that gets the most swings and misses.

Wednesday: Jon Lester vs. Jimmy Nelson

For Lester, 2016 has been generally a continuation of the stellar work he did last season. Since getting off to a rocky start in April of 2015, he’s rarely wavered, but his last start against the Brewers is probably one he’d like to take back. On July 24, he gave up 4 runs in 4 innings, but it was a game that the Cubs ultimately won. Since then, he’s thrown three straight quality starts, shutting down the Mariners, Athletics, and Cardinals. Ryan Braun is the one Brewers hitter who can boast the most success against Lester. He’s gone 7 for 16 in his career and has 2 doubles. Braun has shouldered the load of carrying the Milwaukee offense with Jonathan Lucroy gone to the Rangers now, and has handled the task aptly so far, homering twice against the Reds on Saturday.

If you’re a Brewers fan, it’s hard to find much to feel enthused about when it comes to Jimmy Nelson, unless you’re a fan of hitting opposing hitters. He led the league in HBP in 2015, and currently leads again this season (Anthony Rizzo is wincing already). This will be Nelson’s fourth start against the Cubs, and if he gets the win, it would be his first against Chicago. He came close on May 18, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings, but the Brewers ultimately lost in the 13th inning on Travis Wood’s bases loaded walk. Nelson throws a heavy sinker, but he gets a nearly 17 percent whiff rate on his slider, and against righties, it’s the pitch he’s most likely to use to get the last strike.

Thursday: Jake Arrieta vs. Zach Davies

Arrieta was the man, the myth, the legend at this point last season. He utterly spoiled Cubs fans by being historically dominant, and this season he’s looked more like his 2014 self, which is still a very good pitcher. The way he’s viewed has changed though, and it probably doesn’t allow for him to be seen quite fairly anymore. He gave a hint of the past on August 6 against the Athletics, going eight shutout innings, but the complete overpowering of opposing offenses has not really been seen this year. Arrieta hasn’t faced the Brewers since April 28, his first start after the no-hitter against Cincinnati. They’re a much different offense to face now, as the aforementioned loss of Lucroy has changed the dynamic of their lineup significantly.

Davies is in his first full season and has been quietly impressive. The 23-year-old is facing the Cubs for the second time this season. The first came on July 23 when he went 6 1/3 innings and gave up just one run. Most recently, he struggled against the Reds on Sunday, giving up five runs in five innings on eight hits. Davies has a six-pitch offering, but in general the Cubs will see a lot of his sinker and changeup. He usually throws the sinker as his first pitch in an at bat, and sticks with it whether he gets ahead in the count or falls behind. Otherwise, he’ll go to his cutter or changeup when he’s ahead in the count, but this changes slightly when he falls behind. Behind in the count against lefties, he’s more likely to use the changeup, but against righties he more often turns to the cutter. He has far better success getting swings and misses with the changeup, so if the right handed Cubs hitters can get ahead in the count, they could prey on his cutter.

What to Watch For:

The Cubs have gotten a large amount of a rest since returning from the All Star break about a month ago, and it was much needed following the 24-games-in-24-days stretch they were on prior to that. This week, they return to action following an off day yesterday that didn’t require travel since they spent the weekend at Wrigley, and along with that, it’s “American Legion” week, which means that players are allowed to report to the stadium an hour or two before the game and skip batting practice. It’s something Joe Maddon put in place last season at around this point, and it can provide extra rest that is often badly needed no matter how many days off are built into the schedule.

Jorge Soler has been the hot hand since returning from his injury, and though he struck out rather weakly against Seung-hwan Oh on Sunday night, he’s hitting near .400 in the games since he’s returned. Doubleheaders are difficult, even against weaker teams, and the pitching matchup in today’s day game is the least favorable for the Cubs. Maddon made his feelings about doubleheaders very plain on Sunday, saying, “The day-night doubleheader is awful. I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to try to pander to anybody. It’s awful. It’s awful to be here all day, I’m always concerned about injury, it’s just a bad day. It’s too long. If you’re going to have a doubleheader, have a real doubleheader—one game, the next game starts a half-hour after the first game—and the players won’t mind that nearly as much.”

However, the pitching matchups for the rest of the series heavily favor the Cubs, so if a four game sweep will be hard to come by, they are set up nicely to win three of four.

Game Times, Broadcast Info

Today is a doubleheader thanks to the April 27th rainout that is being made up in the first game. First pitch of game one will come at 12:20 pm, and the game can be found on WGN. The night game will get started at the usual 7:05 slot, and that game will be aired on WPWR (Channel 8 locally). The games tomorrow and Thursday will both be aired on CSN, with a 7:05 start on Wednesday and a 1:20 pm start on Thursday for getaway day. All four games can be heard on 670 AM in Chicago.

Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports.

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